Top execs are aligned on shared services, but is the acquisition rank-and-file paying attention?

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Federal CIO Suzette Kent and General Services Administration head Emily Murphy joked to reporters that they'd carpooled together to attend a Nov. 1 shared-services conference. 

That says a lot about how closely aligned GSA and the White House are on leveraging shared services to achieve cost savings and modernization and fulfill key pledges in the President's Management Agenda. But some experts said that message has yet to trickle down to everyday agency IT services procurement staff.

"When we look at the full scale of what we need to modernize, it is a huge agenda," Kent said. "So I see the shared services agenda [as] absolutely linked with the IT modernization because it's a way we can pick a common set of solutions and move a large group quickly to a more modern, more secure, better service platform and, going back to the PMA, a better mission stewardship."

Murphy said that the push toward Technology Business Management implementation "will help us do a better job of buying IT, which leads to doing a better job of acquisition."

Murphy and Kent said they hope federal agencies can develop standards for shared services that will  push them deeper into administrative back offices. Murphy called out her agency's September contract award for a $2.5 billion software-as-a-service payroll blanket purchase agreement called NewPay as an example of a way forward on shared services. Murphy said it took two years to develop standards for the service among agencies with a bewildering variety of employee pay schedules.

GSA got some shared-services momentum in late October, as the Pentagon shifted its 10-year, $8 billion back-office Defense Enterprise Office Solution cloud solicitation to the GSA's IT Schedule 70.

Murphy said GSA welcomes the opportunity to participate because it gives her agency "a baseline to scale up this type of solution across the federal government in the future."

Shared services, however, have a long history in the federal government with varying degrees of success.

The approach under the PMA is different from past efforts, according to Mike Hettinger, a former Hill staffer and current lobbyist specializing in procurement and IT issues.

"This is more of a shared-resource" approach, where agencies don't necessarily buy a specific service but have access to common resources, such as GSA's Schedules, they can use to create services, he said. It remains to be seen, he added, if that approach resonates at agencies.

Despite the push, procurement industry expert Larry Allen said, front-line agency contracting officers don't see shared services as their go-to at this point.

"It's not in their set of top three priorities." he said. He speculated that in spite of the most recent drive, shared services "aren't likely to happen in the short to medium-term on a scale the PMA would like."

He added "line-level" managers remain reluctant to give up control of their facilities, because of each agency's unique internal oversight. "If things go south, they'll be held accountable."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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